Professor Kishore Mahbubain, currently the Dean and Professor of Practice of Public Policy at the Singapore University, is one shining example of a well educated and successful Singaporean. He was born in Singapore in 1948, a Sindhi and was awarded a scholarship and then graduated from the University of Singapore (NSU) with a degree in philosophy and later obtained a MA degree from Dalhousie University in Canada. He joined Singapore foreign services in 1971 and eventually became the permanent representative to the United Nation for Singapore. While at UN, he met and married Ann King Markey, an American lawyer, and served as the President of the UN Security Council. Professor Mahbubani has written several books, Can Asians Think?, Beyond the Age of Innocence, Rebuilding Trust between America and the World, The New Asian Hemisphere, The Great Convergence: Asia, the West and the Logic of One World and his latest book, Can Singapore Survive?. Professor Mahbubani was selected as one of the top 100 global thinkers by Foreign Policy in 2010 and 2011 and as Prospect's top 50 world thinkers.
There is a good reason that I am presenting such details about Professor Mahbubani. Mahbubani has been an observer of the changing tide in Asian and Western politics. In my opinion, he has correctly criticized the West that their practice of the value they are pressing on to the rest of the world such as democracy, the rule of law and social justice including American culture unfortunately anchored on 'money' and 'sex' is corrupted in many ways. The system of global politics and international institutions such as the United Nations and IMF are created to benefit the West not fair to the rising Asian powers. He claims that though the West may be fearful of Asia's rise, it should accept them and co-operate. Prof. Mahbubani is largely supportive of China like Lee Kuan Yew (a Chinese Singaporean) but he is a Sindhi Singaporean with a life-time diplomatic career associated with the UN. Lee and Mahbubani both understood China's method of globalization and implied that China is doing everything right to become an even more powerful nation. Prof. Mahbubani has given many lectures including a recent one, entitled, What Happens When China Becomes Number One (4-9-2015), at the Kennedy School of Government Institute of Politics, where he discussed the future US-China relation. His views inspire and resonate with mine thus I will summarize and comment on them here.
First, he points out there is a public perception gap (foreign elites versus American public including American intellect). Even though the US media is the best in the world, a traveler in the U.S. will feel being cut off from the rest of the world; self inflicted, the American public do not understand the rest of the world in contrast to elites in other countries who have far better understanding of the world. Americans are too hung up with being number one in the world. President Clinton once said in 2003 something in essence like: if you believe in maintaining power and control and you are number one, you can act unilaterally, but if you are number two, you can't do that. Clinton never repeated this kind of speech since it was suicidal to say U.S. to be number two to the American public. Listening to Presidential candidates every four years, you would wonder why Americans felt so entitled to be number one without thinking deeper how the U.S. achieved and other great nations could achieve to be number one as well. China's economy may very well continue to rise to be number one; Goldman Sachs even predicted that India may become number two, but in reality, the three economies will be all very close in size. There is no big deal for the U.S. to accept a number two position. Japan one time was approaching the number 1 economy of the world, but never did. It is conceivable that China will not become number one either, but China has 1.3 billion people one billion more over Americans. If every Chinese performed 25% more in productivity, every American would have to double his or her productivity to keep the two countries' economy at par.
In Prof. Mahbubani's view, the ASEAN nations and the U.S. don't have reasons to fear the rising China. Overall, China is rising peacefully. The Chinese leader Xi is fulfilling the Chinese Dream, rejuvenating progress both in material and cultural lives for the Chinese citizens. China is more focused on her internal problems than replicating the U.S. foreign actions such as interfering in the Middle East. Whether from traditional Chinese philosophy or from reality, China believes all people in the world live on the same boat. China has more respect to the United Nation than other great powers. In answering questions to his audience about the future of Hong Kong and Taiwan with the rising China, his answer was very profound that both would do well, perhaps, with short term issues in learning and developing methods for resolving disputes as exhibited by some current events. As to the reform or transforming to a more democratic society, his observation was also very prudent. The United States is very generous in offering education opportunities (such as Harvard) to all foreign students including the Chinese. This has had and will continue to have a great effect on China. The fact that there are 100 million Chinese going overseas as well as like many coming back to China provides high hope that China will evolve into a more free and open society. They have moved a society with bicycles being the principal mobility tool to a modern world their citizens can move about in their country and the world with far more freedom than many other people in the world.
Asia as a whole has come a long way in its economic development since WW II thanks to the generosity and the leadership of the United States in guiding the non-communist world to recover from the ruins of the war. The recovery of the Western Europe and Japan are most notable, but their stagnant economy is also obvious and understandable. The future of Asia will be bright because the changes the Asians have made. The world will be a better place for mankind if the West and the East will gain better understanding of each other rather than living in fear of each other or worse by scheming to destroy one another.
Ifay Chang. Ph.D. Producer/Host, Community Education - Scrammble Game Show, Weekly TV Columnist, www.us-chinaforum.org . Trustee, Somers Central School District